When a movie is produced by such illustrious names as Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, audience expectation runs high. The production values of Monster House meet those expectations, but the story flip-flops back and forth from horror to comedy without warning and creates a blend that’s hard to judge.
Visually, Monster House is stunning. The computer generated cartoon is smooth, filled with color, and makes use of digital effects almost effortlessly while hitting on every cylinder. There’s always something happening on screen, and a lot of it is unexpected or so over the top it takes the viewer’s breath away.
The sound stands out, too, especially over a surround sound system. Every creak, roar, crash, and explosion rocks the house. And when the film goes silent to spike the anticipation and dread, that absence of noise blasts across the viewer’s nervous system. I watched the movie with my nine-year-old and he was on the edge of his chair the whole time, except for when he was laughing his head off. I had a good time with it, but there was the confusion about whether it was a horror movie or a comedy.
The story revolves around DJ, a pre-teen boy who lives across the street from the Nebbercracker house. Spielberg specializes in bringing suburbia to life and filling it with creeping evil and science fiction (Poltergeist or E.T., anyone?) and his touches are apparent in this film. Even if he didn’t do them himself, the creative department pulled a card from his deck of tricks.
The Nebbercracker house is THE house — the house that every kid in the neighborhood is certain is haunted. When the movie opens and shows a little girl riding her tricycle across the sidewalk, then accidentally driving onto the Nebbercracker lawn, you just know that something bad is about to happen. When Nebbercracker rushes out screaming, then takes her tricycle away, you know he’s nuts.
But things turn out even worse than that when DJ and his buddy Chowder lose Chowder’s basketball in Nebbercracker’s yard. DJ ends up in an argument with Nebbercracker and the old man has a heart attack. Thinking he’s killed him, DJ totally freaks. But like all pre-teen boys, he just can’t stay away from things.
Later, during the babysitter from hell sequence that is played so well, DJ learns the dark history of the house (at least as everyone else knows it) from Bone, the babysitter’s mean boyfriend. Later, when Bone is lured into the house after being so mean to DJ, I felt like cheering when Bone was swallowed up. But I knew that meant the danger to DJ was even greater.
Jenny, the candy-selling West Prep student, turns out to be the brain of the group. She’s hard-edged and likeable, and DJ and Chowder are instantly vying for her attention. That attraction plays out as one of the problems throughout the movie as well.
DJ’s world comes across well, filled with the all the stock problems and strengths in that world. When they run into trouble, they go to the smartest guy they know: the convenience store clerk that racked up the biggest score ever on a favorite video game. Their weapons are compressed air-powered water guns. These are the things of childhood, the fears, the enviable skills, and the weapons.
One of the best things about the movie is the repetition of sight gags. The Creature from the Black Lagoon mask shows up time and time again, and it’s used for different things. Those different uses of the same material are extremely effective in a film for young viewers. Monster House uses those things for comedy as well as horror, so you never truly know what to expect. It makes the movie pacing even better in some regards.
Up until the time when DJ, Chowder, and Jenny enter the Nebbercracker house, the movie remains pretty much a comedy. The dream sequence in which the house casts a monstrous, fiery-eyed shadow that comes to life in DJ’s room is different. But once they’re inside the house, things turn pretty intense.
Finding out what happened to Mrs. Nebbercracker is pretty gruesome, but it’s gruesome in a hypnotic way because you can’t look away and you’re sucked into the story. This is entirely the kind of thing that urban legends are made of, and it works great in the movie.
When the house comes to full life and tears itself from its foundations to charge after DJ and his friends, the animation is awesome. If a house could ever truly do that, that’s exactly what it would look like.
Monster House is a great movie for family night, provided that the kids don’t scare easily. The horrifying moments can be truly horrifying and they do have a little more edge to them than the preview trailers lead you to believe. The animation fans will love this one as well.